Challenges: When Older Adopted Children Won't Go To Bed

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When Hannah got home from Russia at age six, her bedtime was my dreaded time of the day. She would get wild in the bath. Run around the house when I was trying to put her pajamas on. Scream and yell when I tried to get her into bed. Leap out of her bed, run up and down the stairs, and jump from one piece of furniture to the next…

Hannah's behavior is not uncommon among older adopted children during their first months home. Some of the reasons for these nighttime challenges include fears from the child's previous life regarding nighttime, anger at having to leave all the fun activities of the day, over-stimulation, a fear of bad dreams, a nervousness that we'll be gone when they wake up.

Over and over you read that if you establish a consistent bedtime routine, your child will go to bed calmly, happily, and easily. Ha! The people who write those things have not adopted older children!

During the first few weeks, when Hannah's English was very limited, I drew pictures of each bedtime activity--snack, bath, story, brushing teeth, prayers, hug and kiss. Then I had her help me put them in order. Each night, I pulled out the pile and we went through the pictures in order. That didn't help regarding the time after I left the room when she often got wild, but it did give it all a sense of continuity and order in getting her ready for bed.

I tried many other things to make bedtime a pleasant and comfortable experience for Hannah. We bought new sheets (Hannah's choice), a new blanket, turned the head of the bed to the foot, put up new curtains, left the light on at night, and a few others. I also made sure she got lots of physical activity each day. Took her to the park, played hide and seek with her, danced with her, and more.

I remember one night after Hannah had been here about three months, I was talking to my mom on the phone. I had put Hannah to bed about an hour earlier, we had a big scene, I thought I had gotten her quiet, but here she was calling me again.... I started crying and said to my mom, "I JUST WANT TO WATCH 'ER'!" To me, the thought of being able to watch one TV show a week seemed like heaven!

After several months, when her English had improved, I began the Love and Logic ("Parenting With Love and Logic" by Fay and Cline) approach. She had to be in her room by a certain time, but she didn't have to go to sleep. It's up to her to decide to turn off the light and go to sleep. The "stick" though was that if she woke up cranky and uncooperative, she went to her room half an hour earlier the next night.

You might be a lucky one who has a child who willingly and happily goes to bed and to sleep. However, if you're like most of us, you'll have to try various methods to establish bedtime routines, and wait it out. It does get better!

Written by: Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan's training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She's also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support

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